Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

i·ro·ny1 /ˈīrənē/

Written by: on May 16, 2019



A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

I’ve spent several days working on my end of year self-evaluation at the university – it’s a painfully long reflective narrative on every component of my job (this year my narrative was 19 pages long).  I sent it off to my department chair and abruptly turned my focus to this week’s assigned reading, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. The irony of it all!  It’s ironic because one of the sections of the self-evaluation asks the faculty member to:

List and reflect on the courses you taught this past year. Include your reflections on student evaluations, peer evaluations, and other indicators of teaching effectiveness.  Reflection includes a statement of facts as well as the meaning of those facts and a plan to address any important issues that arise. Describe actions you have taken in the last year to improve your teaching and evaluate the results of those actions.

I’ve been teaching since 2010 and always felt confident in my teaching…but students do not receive curriculum content, assignment instructions, or feedback in the same way they did just a short nine years ago.  Students are different.  They want more….and they expect more.  They are unhappy with ambiguity and desire detailed explanations and precise execution of the course. What does this mean for the instructor?  I’m not sure, but I invested a lot of time reflecting on this very thing in my evaluation. And now Haidt and Lukianoff – Haidt a social psychologist and Lukianoff a first amendment expert – “show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people.”[1]

Lukianoff, in particular, felt that the book’s title should have been more about “disempowered students” rather than “coddled” students.  Both Lukianoff and Haidt agree, however that a large number of this generation of students (genZ) are struggling with significant mental health challenges of anxiety, depression, and polarization – which are not at their core the students’ fault, but rather societies fault.  They assert that parenting approaches, K-12 education, and higher education all need to be overhauled to correct the current trajectory.  The culture of “safetyism” (helicopter parenting) – parent’s efforts to protect children from harm – ultimately prevent children from learning from natural consequences.  Natural consequences are the teaching moments where the critical thinking areas of the brain (hippocampus and prefrontal cortex) develop a memory of what not to do based on consequence, and the ability to problem solve what to do “next time”.  “They believe this plays a factor in some of the campus speech disputes as students are acculturated to fearing anything that may prove challenging and react accordingly.”[2]  The art and skill of critical thinking is a challenge to engender with students today.  I see an increase in concrete thinking and a decline in out-of-the-box, creative, critical thinking.  I often blame the new methods of “teaching to the test” at the K-12 level of education, but could Safetyism be a contributing factor?

One of my favorite assessment and intervention theories, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is highlighted by Haidt and Lukianoff – CBT is a method of disrupting “disordered” (distorted) thinking.  When a student is exposed to dissenting or disagreeable ideas or thoughts, their own critical thinking and problem solving is strengthened – ultimately increasing their resilience.  Speaking of resilience (which is the core of my research…understanding Somali refugees in Columbus, Ohio and their capacity for resilience), one of the most significant factors influencing resilience identified in research is experiencing caring and supportive relationships both in and outside of the family system. Emotionally, these relationships provide love and trust, and role modeling and mentoring which in turn produce encouragement and hope.[3]  Another factor associated with the presence of resilience is the ability to emotionally self-regulate through managing difficult emotions and impulses. Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to “act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values”.[4] Emotionally, self-regulation is the “ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down”.[5] Self-regulation requires the ability to self-reflect and analyze “what” is happening and “why” the emotional reaction is so strong.  From this reflection comes insight and the ability to appropriately plan a response.  Building on the concept of self-regulation, the ability to create realistic strategies and successfully implement them is another contributing factor of resilience. Often this higher level skill requires the individual to have a strong self-concept (including feeling capable and confident) and be a healthy communicator and problem solver.

The authors agree that “Safetyism is not a cause, but instead is a consequence of a larger problem, a symptom, not the disease itself.”[6] Today’s typical college student was ~ eight-years-old when the global economy collapsed in such an extreme way that the wealthy were even panicked.  The resulting economic “recovery” has only intensified our sense of scarcity and precarity.  “Students have not been coddled, they’ve been defeated. The nature of that defeat may be different depending on where students are on the socio-economic ladder and how far they’re trying to climb, but the consequences to mental and physical well-being are the same.”[7] We must take heed!  I may feel frustrated by the behaviors and attitudes of today’s student, but the responsibility to adjust, inform, and be part of the solution which increases capacity for student resilience is on me…not just them.  I will persevere!

[1] https://www.thecoddling.com/

[2] https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/million-thoughts-coddling-american-mind

[3] https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201110/self-regulation

[5] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201110/self-regulation

[6] https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/million-thoughts-coddling-american-mind

[7] https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/million-thoughts-coddling-american-mind

About the Author

Jean Ollis

6 responses to “i·ro·ny1 /ˈīrənē/”

  1. Jean, I was so eager to read you response to this book, and you did not disappoint! I take your words to heart at a parent of Gen Zers. Thanks for talking about resilience. This goes with antifragility, but your thoughts have helped me to better understand.

  2. Hello Jean,

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post today.

    I found your reflections on today’s students fascinating. You said, “I see an increase in concrete thinking and a decline in out-of-the-box, creative, critical thinking.” And with that, I thought, “oh!!! I’m so sad!” I hope you can influence your university in new directions.

    I am a huge advocate for the liberal arts as that sort of thinking that will help us learn creativity. But in our materialist-influenced academic world, we reposition learning as that which transfers skills and technical solutions. It’s so damn practical.

    I find it hopeful that there are now reports that employers are now seeking the softer side of education. They say that the MFA is the new MBA.

    “A recent study by Adobe revealed that creativity is the #1 skill employers are looking for in prospective job candidates. And IBM found, in a global study of more than 1500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries, that the most important skill for successfully navigating an increasingly complex world is creativity. Graduates from traditional and technology backgrounds are being encouraged to cultivate their creative sides, which puts arts and design graduates who completed programs of study steeped in creativity and innovation at an advantage in today’s job market.”


  3. Once again Jean, great minds think alike! 🙂 I had a feeling you would highlight CBT as well, but we seem to always choose similar quotes to highlight as well. We both also referenced the IRONY of our lives and the reading. I can only imagine how much you run into everything this book talks about on a daily basis, which increases the unreasonable demands on you (it would be one thing if you got paid big bucks for the hassle 🙁 ) I also love your response to this…being committed to teaching your students (and refugees) resislience. Not surprised at all by your response my friend. Blessings to you.

  4. Mike says:

    Did you have the same department chair last year? You get an A++ for reflection!
    I wonder how your son and his classmates would feel, evaluated, and react to this phenomenon in their military academic context? What will our future military leaders react to stress, chaos, and unsafe environments?
    Great post and integration of the book’s themes into your dissertation and work with the Somalian refugees.
    Yes, Put it on, Pray, and Persevere! We are proud of you Jean.
    Stand firm,
    Mike w

  5. Dan Kreiss says:


    I have been teaching in higher ed for over 15 years now and I agree that students have changed, particularly in the last 3 or 4 years. They seem far less willing to engage in debate with views counter to their own unless they feel perfectly comfortable and that they will not be mocked or embarrassed in any way. This seems reasonable, but I don’t think I have ever had a student mocked in my classes, what i think they actually fear is being incorrect and thus embarrassed.

    I have also seen an increase in mental health challenges recently and my own daughter fought depression in college

    I have found that students particularly resonate with instructors who take the time to listen and know them. Unfortunately my institution did not value that approach much and I am concerned for students as myself and others that attempted to know them leave.

    I do believe that this is a critical space that local churches can step into to help students adjust, find a spiritual home, receive support from caring adults etc. I just hope that churches who have the proximity to college campuses will be willing to make those efforts even when they are likely to have minimal impact to the church roll or coffers.

  6. Kyle Chalko says:

    Hi Jean,

    Good post. I was particularly interested in your thoughts on this book. As a educator, what would you do if you had some students protest as disruptingly as those students from the book did. Im not sure how I would handle it. And then the tension between, not letting that affect my job, but also why would I put myself through that tough work enviroment. Would I resign? I dont know.

    Also I know you’ve used the term Microaggression before, and so I was wondering how you felt about the authors explanation of the misuse of that term.

Leave a Reply